Grades. As most moms and dads know, they can be the focal point of a parent's relationship with their child, while driving many to distraction. And in a world of grades, none shines more brightly than the much-admired A, against which its seemingly hapless cousins -- the B, C, D and, dare we say, the F -- are rendered relatively mute, if not symbols of failure.
In response, an after-school cottage industry has flourished, promising parents As with slogans like "Where there's a will, there's an A!" -- intimating that if your child receives anything less, he or she is most likely lazy, unmotivated, inadequate or incompetent.
Have they convinced us that with their will alone, a child can master any subject?
We begin by mentioning all this because it affects us all. The iconic A has become the standard by which all is measured, and it has infected our way of seeing the world -- and very often the ways in which a mom or dad may see their own child.
So how should mom or dad assess our child's grades?
First, let's acknowledge that some students enjoy the challenge of grades, and delight in the fact that there is such a thing as an A to pursue.
Let's also consider what we may believe it takes to get an A, and what having an A child may mean to us.
Finally, let's also recognize that for most students, an A may be far less familiar, and far more elusive than they, or their parents, would like. Because from a kid's point of view, the omnipresent A is not so much a challenge as a moving target, continually winking, frowning or scoffing at them from behind every homework assignment, every quiz, test or exam -- not to mention eyeing them daily as to their class participation and behavior.
Everywhere they turn, the A is judging them.
Consider what life would seem like to an adult if they had to face a peer-review every day, or corporate evaluations every week to remain employed? Adults who live such lives usually have the high blood pressure to prove it, and few, if any, would recommend it.
Yet that is how kids are often left to feel.
Thus, as much as your son or daughter might like to receive an A, the thought of being constantly judged -- and the attendant fear of failure it triggers in them -- may decide instead it's better not to reach, and content themselves with merely passing grades, if possible. Better to have never tried and fail, they reason, than to try and really fail. Because then their worst fears -- what they may already feel about themselves -- will be confirmed for all to see.
So instead, they find ways to deny, avoid, sabotage or rebel, all in an attempt to escape the anxiety they feel in a world where the A is king, and everything else seems like abject under-achievement.
And that is why it so very important that a parent's efforts to inspire their child to do his or her best be based on a realistic understand their own child's individual strengths and challenges, and to address them accordingly -- not in comparison to others.
As you may well remember from your own school days, your child may have to work far harder for a C in one class than the A they receive in another. So should your child be having difficulty in a class, or across the academic spectrum, a teacher, dean or school principal may be able to advise you as to what kind of additional support may help.
The goal is to discover what pieces might be missing from their class, their approach, or their mode of learning that can be helped, supported or reconsidered in new ways that increase their comprehension and learning skills.
Measuring them against others, on the other hand, will not only likely fail, but will most often, as we have seen in our work, lead to rebellion, inviting years of joy-robbing family strife. Not fun.
Having said that, we have seen how many parents have been fed a steady diet of fear, beginning with well-intended school orientation meetings in which grades -- though often not spoken of directly -- may well seem like the proverbial gorilla in the room, ready to toss their kid aside should they fall short. So they return home, ready to press their child to make the grades. But in seeking them, a mom or dad may overlook the very gifts their child does have.
Over the years, we have often marveled at how children who were supposed to be "less capable" positively thrived when the right pieces and strategies were put in place to their support efforts.
And so don't make an A the only thing for them, or for you, and you may find that, freed from the unspoken pressures, they can find their own path, gaining confidence in who they are, and what they can uniquely do.
We will soon be back with Part 2, in which we take a look at kids who are not performing to their potential, and what a parent can do.
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For more on this and many other parenting topics, please visit us at TheDancingParent.com, where you find numerous articles, links and other resources for moms and dads. Until next time, keep dancing.